A Fleishman and Graves tale
by Kieran Ryan

MY NAME IS Richard Graves and I’m an undertaker on Junkland. Over the years, we’ve had lots of get-rich-quick ideas. Some of them were baked, some of them were half-baked, but even by our own standards, this latest one was barely in the oven. It all started, as these things usually do for us, at a funeral. But this wasn’t just any funeral, this one was special…

I will never, ever, forget the day of the Spanglish ambassador’s funeral. Everything about it was perfect. The deceased lay decked out in a splendiferous purple velvet robe while four virgins played strange otherworldly music on their interstellar harpsichords. Bouquets of a thousand unknown flowers from a thousand uncharted planets filled the Serenity Room with such dazzling fragrances that four people fainted from nasal over-stimulation. The eulogy was genre defining, written by the galaxy-famous writer Jane Joist, and delivered by Oscar-winning actor Orange Starburst. Even I, battle-hardened old Richard Graves, cried. And I don’t even speak Spanglish. Undoubtedly, in all my years in the business this was our most spectacular funeral ever.

No one wanted it to end, but eventually the time came for the deceased’s Final Journey. The coffin trundled slowly towards the Ultimate Destination (or microwave oven, as we call it in the business) while a magnificent translucent light display fired up, filling the room with miniature fireworks that played out highlights of the ambassador’s life. Jaws hit the floor as the tiny holographic movies danced through the air like fireflies. It was truly a triumph. When it was all over, everyone agreed that no one knew how to honour their dead like the Spanglish.

Afterwards, a sense of awe hung in the air. Or maybe it was just the aroma of burnt chicken that emanated from the Ultimate Destination. Either way, I watched with a sense of triumph as Starburst smiled politely to everyone and posed for holographs as the mourners filed out.

Roger, brother of the dead Spangle and chief mourner, drifted towards me. ‘Mr Graves,’ he said, through a translator. ‘I can’t thank you for arranging such a perfect dead event. It made me move so much my vascular pump split.’

Roger needed to update his translator software, but I got the drift. The Spanglish were a mysterious race from somewhere well beyond our galaxy and I wasn’t sure what part of him to look at. He was basically a bunch of small star constellations contained in a transparent sack, crammed into a pair of human slacks. I picked a bright spot somewhere in the middle and addressed that.

‘Thank you, Mr Roger,’ I said, bowing my head. ‘Fleishman and Graves, no job too big or too small; that’s our motto. I’m so glad we were able to help you give the Ambassador the send-off he so richly deserved.’

My mind was starting to drift back to more earthly matters. It had been a great event, a very costly great event.

‘We followed your instructions to the letter, Mr Roger,’ I continued. ‘No expense cough was spared in delivering your vision.’

The twinkling particles in Roger’s midriff seemed to shrink somewhat. ‘Oh, yes,’ he replied. ‘My mind understands. You wish to engage the subject of exchanging valueless tokens in return for work performed.’

I coughed politely for a second time. ‘As uncivilised as it is, well, yes.’

Roger’s lights began to twinkle brighter. ‘It is a problem, Mr Graves. In Spangle we have evolved past the need for money, as you say it.’

My eyes popped.

‘I observe your physiological response to my statement. Do not experience anxiety, Mr Graves. We are aware of the idiosyncrasies of your species and do not fear, I have come prepared. The female luck person is smiling at you today, Mr Graves. In return for your high work, I am going to reward you with an item that has value far beyond that of mere money.’

Roger reached a star-filled protuberance into the back pocket of his beige slacks. Here we go, I thought, I can’t believe that the Spangles are just another bunch of debt-dodging cheapskates. I braced myself for him to produce a painted stone, or an alabaster statue of a cat or some other crappy trinket.

‘This thing, Mr Graves,’ the voice of the translator lowered, ‘cannot to be got anywhere else in the universe.’

Roger held a small metal rod with a raised button-like disc on one end. It shone with a faint radioactive glow. The more I stared at it, the more it seemed to change. One second it was dark grey, the next it was milky white, the next it was transparent. I stood transfixed.

‘Ah, I observe you are a male of good taste buds. Do you understand what is this, Mr Graves?’ Roger’s constellations danced excitedly.

I shook my head. Absolutely no freaking clue.

‘I am not surprised. An item like this is only from Spangle. You, Mr Graves, will be the first human to ever possess one.’ He held out his hand thing, indicating for me to take the rod.

‘W-what is it?’ I managed to stammer.

‘It is a time machine, Mr Graves.’


Back in the office, Fleishman, my business partner, didn’t take the news quite so well.

‘It’s a time machine,’ I repeated.

‘A freaking time machine?’ Fleishman roared as if he were in pain. ‘Did it come with a side order of magic beans? Do you have any idea how much that funeral cost us, Graves? This could ruin us.’

‘But look at it, Bruce, it’s beautiful.’ Even I cringed when I said that.

Fleishman banged his head on his desk, sending his jowls into a fat-filled frenzy. ‘Let’s see if we can salvage this. If it’s so beautiful,’ Fleishman spat out the word, ‘get down to Luigi’s pawn shop with it, then. Maybe, just maybe, there’s another idiot out there willing to waste money on it.’

I looked down at the offending rod in my hand. It shimmered hypnotically from red to yellow, picking up every colour in the room in turn. To me, it was already a magic wand.

‘But aren’t you curious, Bruce? I mean, to see if it really works?’

Fleishman ripped the top off a packet of custard cream biscuits and shoved two into his maw. ‘I’m too busy to be curious, Graves. Too busy paying bills. Someone around here has to be the adult.’

‘But the Spangle said it was so easy. “Just press the button”, he said. Apparently, it can only put time back thirty seconds, but still, isn’t that awesome?’

‘GRAVES. GET. OUT!’ Fleishman thrust a pudgy finger towards the door.

I started to move, then stopped. It couldn’t do any harm, could it? I glanced up at Fleishman, his head so red it was about to burst. I’d show him. I pressed the button.


‘It’s a time machine,’ I said.
‘A freaking time machine? Did it come–’ Fleishman stopped. ‘Wait, Graves… I already said that, didn’t I?’

Fleishman looked down at the unopened packet of biscuits in his hands. I stared at him and he stared at me.

‘By all the gods. It works.’


The custard creams were quickly forgotten and we got down to the exciting work of figuring out how it worked. The Spangle was right, it could be used again and again, but only to replay the last thirty seconds. We quickly learned it wasn’t possible to ‘double-up’ and rewind more time in thirty-second chunks. When Chrissy the intern arrived at the office for the fourth time with no recollection of the previous three times, we also figured out that only people in the immediate vicinity of the wand retained their memories from before the rewind.

‘Wow. Isn’t it amazing? And so beautiful too!’ I said.

‘Yeah, sure,’ replied Fleishman, his eyes gleaming. ‘Now let’s figure out how we can use it to make some easy money!’

Fleishman propped up his datapad to take notes while Chrissy and I began to shout out ideas.

‘Rob a bank! Murder someone! Rob a bank and murder someone!’ Chrissy was enjoying this.

‘How about hacking into the bank instead?’ I offered.

‘Eating infinite donuts?’ Fleishman drooled.

The suggestions kept coming.

‘Jump off a cliff experience!’

‘Open presents again and again!’

‘Perfect your ultra-golf game!’

Ten minutes later, we had over a hundred suggestions. Once we had removed all of Chrissy’s that involved killing people and the ones that obviously wouldn’t work, there were three standouts.

‘Right,’ said Fleishman, ‘let’s get cracking with number one!’

In a flash, we were down at Razimonitherian’s corner shop at the end of the road.

‘Afternoon, gents,’ Razi said happily through his translator. ‘Afraid we’re out of bourbon creams, Bruce, but we’ve got a special offer on budget wholegrains if you’re interested.’

We ignored him and clustered conspiratorially, finalised our plan.

‘How many can we scratch in thirty seconds?’ Fleishman whispered to me.

‘I dunno. Ten each, maybe?’

Fleishman nodded. ‘Okay, let’s do it. Start the stopwatch.’ He stepped up to counter, complete focus in his eyes.

‘Afternoon, Razi. Twenty scratch cards, please. We need ’em quick. In a hurry!’

Razi’s four bulbous eyes rotated in his head with puzzlement.

‘Sure thing, Bruce. Whatever you say.’

A tentacle reached out, ripped off the required number of scratch cards and deposited them on the counter. We descended on them like starving men on a chicken leg and got to scratching. Before long, my watch beeped twenty eight seconds.

‘Nothing here, Bruce!’ I blurted, scanning up and down the rows of apples, oranges, cherries and bananas.

‘Nothing here, Graves! Reset! Reset!’


‘How many scratch cards can we scratch this time?’ Fleishman whispered to me for the tenth time.

‘Let’s go with five,’ I replied, scraping foil from under my nail.

‘Right. Start the stopwatch.’ Fleishman stepped up to counter, a very much dimmed focus in his eyes.

‘Afternoon Razi. Ten scratch cards from the third row, please. We’re in a hurry! Need ’em quick!’

Razi’s four bulbous eyes rotated in his head with puzzlement.

‘Sure thing, Bruce. Whatever you say.’

A tentacle reached out, ripped out the required amount of scratch cards from the third row and deposited them on the counter. We descended on them like slightly hungry men on a rice cake and got to scratching. My watch beeped twenty eight seconds.

‘Still nothing,’ I said.

‘Still nothing,’ said Fleishman, resignedly.

We tried again. And again. And again. There were a few minor wins but nothing even remotely worth the time.

‘Scratch that idea, Bruce,’ I said, not laughing at my own joke. ‘We could waste our time visiting every corner store in Junk Town with no guarantees of success. There’s got to be a better way. An easier way. What’s number two on the list?’

We had joined Chrissy back in the office and she read from the datapad screen. ‘You could cheat death and live for an extra thirty seconds. Surely that’s got to be worth something?’

Now there was an idea. I thought about it. ‘I could be a Time Travelling Death Reverse Facilitator. Or a Compassion Sales Manager. Or an End of Life Enhancer.’

‘Would look good on your LinkedIn profile,’ agreed Fleishman.

Obviously, I was nominated to try it out since I like people and generally, they like me. Fleishman conversely, has a natural aversion to most living things, a feeling that is usually reciprocal. Chrissy headed home for the evening, while I was packed off to the critical care ward of Junk Town hospital, magic wand in hand, eagerly looking for business opportunities …


‘It’s just human nature, Bruce,’ I said, wearily. It was later that night and I was back once again. ‘People say the right thing, but when it comes to it, most of us are actually glad when our loved ones finally pop their clogs.’

‘How many did you try again, Graves?’ Fleishman puffed out his red cheeks.

‘Twelve in total and I didn’t even get near a sale. No one wants to keep their loved ones alive for longer, at least not for the prices I quoted them. I did get one offer from a Neptoidian who had got the wrong candy bar from a vending machine but even that deal fell through when it turned out he’d bought it two days ago. Time waster, if you’ll excuse the pun.’

‘Take a look at the next idea, Graves, I need a tinkle.’ Fleishman lifted his hefty frame from his chair and headed off to the small closet off our office that doubled as a restroom.

A little internal voice that had been nagging at me all day began to shout. With Fleishman out of the room, it began to scream. It roared that I should try idea number 47. I could resist no longer and I did as I was told. Grabbing the time wand in one hand and my datapad in the other, I put through a call to our number one rival undertaker, Angelina Morteus. Seconds later, she answered. Her deep yellow eyes were wide in surprise.

‘Richard? Richard Graves? Is that you?’

‘Hi Angelina. I have something to ask you. Dinner. Friday night. Don Paolo’s 8.30pm. Candles, romance, you and me. What do you say?’

Angelina looked stunned. Then a smirk broke out on her beautiful green face. ‘You and me? You honestly think I would go out with you?’ Loud guffaws of laughter echoed in my ears briefly before, thoroughly humiliated, I hit the reset button.

‘Keep thinking, Graves, I need a tinkle.’ Fleishman repeated. This time, I sat in sullen silence, starting to like the wand a whole lot less. Fleishman arrived back, wiping his hands on his shirt. ‘Right, it’s getting late. We’ve got time for one more try. What’s next on the list?’

‘Number three. One of Chrissy’s. Punching people in the face with no consequences,’ I said. ‘For a fee of course. Perfect timing too. The first drunks of the night should just be heading home. Sounds like this one is right up your alley, Bruce …’

Fleishman had no sooner left than he was back again, sporting two black eyes and a bloody nose. I sat him down gingerly and deposited a two-day old cream puff in front of him. ‘Didn’t go well, then?’ I asked delicately.

‘Forgot one little thing didn’t we?’ Fleishman replied with a full mouth of pastry. ‘Anyone near the wand remembers everything, even after the reset.’

‘Ouch. So there were consequences. I guess the person that got punched took out their revenge on you?’

Fleishman touched his right eye. ‘He did on this eye. The puncher did the other one.’

I slouched down beside my partner. After yet another resounding failure, we were both feeling exhausted and utterly downbeat.

‘I think you were right, Bruce,’ I said, dejectedly. ‘Maybe I should have got money out of the Spangles after all.’ With heavy hearts, we decided to call it a night. I left poor Fleishman in such a state that he had broken out Razi’s budget wholegrains and was hunched up in a ball of crumbs, sobbing to himself.


The following morning, I arrived back at HQ ready to throw in the towel. Instead, I was shocked to find an alert Fleishman sitting on his desk, a crazed look in his black eyes and the time machine cradled in his lap.

‘We’ve been doing it all wrong, Graves,’ he babbled. ‘Thinking too small. You were right, I was wrong. We have the power to change the very fundamental nature of reality here. Here in my hand.’ He raised the glittering rod over his head and laughed maniacally. ‘What were we thinking, using it to scratch lottery cards? Pathetic. Small beans. We are Fleishman and Graves, Galactic Undertakers. GALACTIC, Graves, GALACTIC! We need to think big!’

I’d never seen Fleishman so worked up about anything that wasn’t baked and full of saturated fat. ‘Have you been to bed?’ I asked tentatively.

‘BED! Bed is for the weak! We are going to change the universe!’

‘You’re, right!’ I enthused, pulling up a chair. ‘What have you got planned, old chum?’

He fixed his eyes on me like a laser beam. ‘Something so amazing, so crazy, so planet-shattering that you won’t believe it. This will change things forever. Now, boil the kettle and get a flask packed. We are going on a trip.’


Twenty minutes later, we arrived at Junkport. Fleishman was off and running even before the taxi stopped. ‘Everything is arranged, everything is sorted out,’ Fleishman called back to me. ‘It’s all taken care of.’

‘What exactly is it, Bruce?’ I asked, starting to get a little worried. I snaked through the early morning commuters, struggling to keep up with him.

He pushed a small child out of the way. ‘Just follow me. Nearly there.’ Fleishman sprinted ahead, muscles that were happily dormant for twenty years suddenly called reluctantly back to life. He disappeared through the door to docking bay 13. Of course, it had to be 13.

I followed him through just in time to see his ample backside disappear up the landing ramp of a pretty standard looking spacecraft. Then, spying what was beside that pretty standard looking spacecraft, I fell in a heap on the floor. Fleishman’s head reappeared. ‘No time for napping, Graves. I presume you can fly one of these things. Get up here!’

I looked up again at the ‘thing’. It was at least twenty times bigger than the spacecraft. It was cylindrical in shape and had a big plus sign painted on one end and a big minus sign painted on the other. I gathered myself up and stumbled into the cockpit beside Fleishman, who was already belted up and looking at me expectantly. ‘Hurry up, Graves,’ he said, handing me a yellow post-it with a bunch of numbers written on it. ‘Take us here. I’ll explain all on the way.’

I did as I was told and minutes later, we were hurtling across the galaxy at light speed. Fleishman turned the time wand over and over in his hands, talking to it, a demented expression on his face. ‘Um,’ I said. ‘Where did you get the money for the ship, Bruce?’

‘Raided the pension fund,’ he replied without looking up.

‘Uh. We don’t have a pension fund, Bruce.’

‘Didn’t say it was our pension fund.’

I did not like where this was going.


As the countdown to our arrival started, I noticed the blackness of space starting to get a whole lot blacker. A warning light I had never noticed before suddenly lit up on the dash. Fleishman was still mumbling to himself.

‘Good… good… my precious.’

‘What was that, Bruce?’ I asked, delicately.

His head turned towards me, a crazed determination in his eyes. ‘Take us in, Graves,’ he said. ‘Take us in all the way.’

‘In where exactly?’ I asked, pointing out the front windscreen. ‘There’s nothing out there.’

He smiled, his yellow teeth gleaming in the fluorescent glow of the wand. ‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘Take us all the way into the black hole.’

I decided it was my duty at this stage to point out that if I followed that suggestion, we, the time machine and the ship would be crushed into a space smaller than an atom, meaning there was a very high probability of death. That was when Fleishman mentioned the massive battery trailing behind us.

‘I’m not stupid, Graves. It’s all part of the plan,’ he said, slightly more himself. ‘Take us in as close as you can then I will do two things. First, I’ll put the battery on to charge. Second, I will reverse time using the wand. This will do two things. It will move us back away from the black hole while simultaneously recharging the battery with the energy saved from extracting us from the pull of the back hole.’

I considered this course of action. ‘But you’re an accountant, not an astrophysicist,’ I said.

Fleishman ignored me. ‘Think of it, Graves. If this works, we will have an infinite supply of energy. We will be the richest beings in the galaxy. Wealth, fame, women. We’ll have it all.’

This line of reasoning was starting to win me over. ‘And you’re sure this will work?’ I asked.

‘There’s only one way to find out!’ he replied, swinging the wand. ‘Take us in!’

I did as I was told. As we approached, the gravitational pull of the black hole did the rest, drawing us further in, slowly at first, then faster and faster. I increased the reverse thrusters. The entire ship began to rock and shake as the engines struggled against the immense power of the black hole.

‘Bruce,’ I said. ‘We need to get out of here.’

‘Not enough, not enough. Bring us in more,’ he said.

I increased reverse power. We were still moving towards the black hole. In fact, we were moving much faster now. Beads of sweat dripped down my forehead.

‘Bruce,’ I shouted. ‘This is getting very urgent, very fast. We need to get out of here!’

Fleishman tutted in annoyance. ‘Have some gumption, Graves. We’ve got a time machine.’

A terrible pressure filled every cell in my body. I whimpered in pain.

‘Oh bloody hell, no need to overreact. Fair enough, you win, Graves.’ Fleishman pressed the button on the wand.

The pressure got worse and we were still hurtling towards the black hole.

‘It didn’t work! It didn’t work,’ I screamed, banging insanely at the controls. Fleishman looked calmly down at the wand.

‘Interesting. Let me try it again.’ He pressed the button once more.

This time I watched the clock on the ship’s computer. It went back thirty seconds but our position hadn’t changed. ‘It’s reversing time, but the pull of the black hole is too great. The available energy isn’t enough to pull us away. Or something.’

The reality finally dawned on Fleishman, who swiftly crumpled up into a useless ball.

‘We need more power, waaaay more power,’ I shrieked. Suddenly, an idea hit me. ‘Hey Bruce, did the recharging work? How is the battery?’

Fleishman looked down at a readout on the rapidly disappearing control panel. ‘Partial success,’ he sobbed. ‘Charged to 75%. But doesn’t matter since we’re about to die horribly—’

‘Shut it,’ I ordered. ‘Divert all power from the battery to our engines right now. If this works we might still have a chance.’

Fleishman did as he was told. A bone-shaking rumble filled the cockpit as the power transferred from the gigantic battery to our engines. The air began to crackle and an almighty battle for supremacy broke out between our new super-powered engines and the might of the black hole.

‘Charge down to 35%,’ roared a reinvigorated Fleishman.

‘We need more!’ I screamed back. He tapped a few buttons on what was left of the control panel and set the battery drain to 0%. I watched the needle moving, then sat back and said as many prayers to as many deities as I could as quickly as I could. Finally, there was a tremendous snap followed by a blinding flash and then we were off, catapulted half way across the galaxy, free and more importantly, alive.


I entered the office the following morning with a headache almost as bad as the time I drank two bottles of Nekromancian vino. To my great surprise, Fleishman wasn’t there. The Spanglish magic time machine wand was on his desk, looking as alluring and beautiful as ever. I filled the kettle and shook a heap of extra strength Kaff-eenTM into my favourite mug while I waited for it to boil. I checked the fridge. We were all out of Andromedan seal milk, of course, but there was half a carton of boring old human milk left. I poured a generous measure into the mug followed by a fistful of sugar lumps. The steaming kettle clocked off and with a big sigh, I filled the mug. I searched the counter top. No spoon. I checked the drawer. No spoon. I checked Fleishman’s desk. No spoon. No bloody spoon anywhere. Or was there?

I dunked the time wand into my Kaff-eenTM and swished it around, watching the brown and white colours blending together. The translucent glow of the wand faded into a dull grey colour. The door swung open and a bedraggled Fleishman wandered in, his shirt tails hanging out, his tie askew.

‘Good news, Bruce,’ I said flatly. ‘I’ve finally found a use for the Spanglish time machine.’



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